Alcohol is common in our culture and often associated with good times. However, whether it’s ‘wetting the baby’s head' or celebrating the success of your favourite team, cancer risk increases with every unit of alcohol consumed. Also, drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer whether it’s drunk all in one go or spread throughout the week.
Alcohol can cause seven different types of cancer. It’s the alcohol itself causing harm, not the type of alcoholic drink you choose. Alcohol increases the risk of mouth cancer, pharyngeal (upper throat) cancer, oesophageal (food pipe) cancer, laryngeal (voice box) cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer.
Drinking and smoking together are worse than either one alone, as together they cause more damage to cells throughout the body.
This doesn’t mean everyone who drinks alcohol will develop cancer, but when comparing the whole population, people who drink alcohol are more likely to develop cancer than people who don’t. Alcohol causes 11,900 cases of cancer a year in the UK.
Cutting down on alcohol and staying within current recommendations of 14 units a week, around about six pints of beer or medium glasses of wine, is a good place to start. Saving money, avoiding energy-sapping hangovers, and having a better night’s sleep are some of the benefits, but you may be advised not to drink during some cancer treatment. Speak to your GP or healthcare professional to avoid unwanted side effects.
Whatever your level of drinking, cutting down will reduce your risk of developing cancer, as well as helping you to keep a healthy weight. Staying within the government guidelines of 14 units per week is a good place to start.